Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Appendix N Still Matters

Over at the premier fantasy blog of the internet, fellow pulp fantasy junkie and all around cool cat Fletcher Vredenburgh has made Appendix N a significant element of his manifesto:

I hadn’t really thought about Appendix N until James Maleszewski started blogging about it at his old and much-missed site, Grognardia. While he wasn’t a newcomer to the books on Gygax’s list, a lot of the people commenting were, and it was fun to read new takes on old works. They were totally sold on books which had either created the tropes that have come to dominate mass-market fantasy, or that were defiantly original, yet with roots proudly tracing back to the pulp tradition. It was the first intimation that so many of the books I grew up with were finding a new audience.

Later, Jeffro Johnson at Castalia House began a long series of posts examining the books and authors of Appendix N. The pieces were all collected and released as Appendix N: A Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s a strongly opinioned and valuable take on a varied and idiosyncratic assortment of books. His commenters’ excitement over discovering a whole wealth of new-to-them fantasy writing definitely warmed this critic’s heart.

I’m not sure if Fletcher knows just how gracious he’s being here. For anyone that’s spent any amount of effort attempting to explain vintage role-playing games on a blog, being compared to James Maliszewski is about as good as it gets.

As to the books of Appendix N, according to Fletcher they are not just “a quirky list of fantasy and sci-fi books that inspired Gary Gygax”, but are also “worth reading because they are among the very best the genre has to offer.” He remarks on the contrast between how these books seemed to lapse into obscurity… but the people exposed to them today just can’t get over how good they are.

What’s up with that?

Well, Black Gate is far too reputable of a site to delve into to that particular question, but recent events make this far, far easier for people to wrap their heads around. Comics were infiltrated, subverted, and pushed to the very edge of destruction over the past decade or so. And Star Wars has been turned upside down and inside out very quickly just in the past few years by the same sort of people.

These are the same sort of people became responsible for both universities and journalism at some point. They wage a nonstop war on not just the past, but also anyone that dares to spoil their narrative. The ideological diversity and the freedom of expression that was taken for granted in the states before 1980 is offensive to them. But it goes further than that. These people use their influence to rewrite the literary canon however they please, reading people out for purely political reasons while inducting others for their utility in forwarding the aims of their cultural revolution.

And this stuff works, too. Accusing A. Merritt of having a Madonna-Whore complex, talking about how Lovecraft used the “N” word, and calling Robert E. Howard a mamma’s boy doesn’t do a whole lot to expand the reader base for their stories. And for anyone paying attention, there is a not-so-subtle cue in all that that you need to perform public self-flagellation rituals if your’re going to admit to liking such authors in mixed company.

It’s humiliating to even think about. Most people most of the time are going to steer clear of such unpleasantness.

But I see it happen all the time: people hear about these books, go read them for themselves, and then they are just plain blown away by them. It’s not just that they have been betrayed by the broader commentariat that they unconsciously depend on to keep them informed of such things. It’s that there are things packed into these stories that have very nearly been wiped out of the broader culture. And there’s something there that people desperately crave even though they can’t really imagine what could be there in the first place.

Wonder. Thrills. Romance. Heroism. Virtue.

We are hard wired for this. And we will have it.

4 responses to “Appendix N Still Matters

  1. The Mixed GM February 11, 2018 at 12:09 am

    I enjoy reading, but I have not really enjoyed reading until you showed me the Appendix N books and the modern successors to that tradition.

    I am angry that no one took me aside when I was 12 or 13 and shoved a copy of “A Princess of Mars” in my hands. I could have avoided reading a ton of garbage in my youth!

  2. Fletcher A. Vredenburgh February 11, 2018 at 12:54 am

    Thank you for the kind words, Jeffro – and the excellent primer on Appendix N. I hope James M. is reading this and seeing the thanks he’s still getting.

    • John Boyle February 11, 2018 at 1:11 am

      Mr. Vredenburgh, thank you for everything you’ve done over at Black Gate to remind people of the old books and what they’re missing if they don’t give them a look.

      I noticed that you said that you’ve never read anything by A. Merritt; may I recommend The Ship of Ishtar as a first look at his work? You won’t regret it.

  3. John Boyle February 11, 2018 at 1:08 am

    I come from the other side of what John C. Wright calls the “Appendix N Divide”. I’m in my 60s and I grew up in a world where NONE of those books were lost or forgotten. Everyone in my home read Burroughs, the same way they read Kipling, A.C. Doyle and Shakespeare. Everyone I ran with in my teens knew who Conan was and we read the newest books by Zelazny and Andre Norton as soon as they came out. We read Merritt, Vance, Doc Smith and C.L. Moore and characters from all of them wound up in our rpg sessions. It was not chance that caused their books to be memory-holed; it was not time that caused those authors to be dismissed and then forgotten. It was done deliberately by people who despised heroism, virtue and wonder and anyone who dared to write about them.

    You have every right to be angry because the people who did that cheated you of your birthright. And if we’re not careful, they and their heirs will do the same again and they’ll do it to us.

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